HUBweek Change Maker: Monique Fuchs
Spreading the Innovation Bug at Wentworth Institute of Technology
Established in 2012 with the idea to bring innovation and entrepreneurship skills to it’s students, ACCELERATE, Wentworth Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center is on a mission to spark curiosity and inspire students to think outside of the box. We spoke with Monique Fuchs, the Associate VP of the center, on what it’s all about and what’s on their radar for this new year.
Tell us a bit about your background. How did you get to where you are now?
I am originally from Germany and moved to Boston for two years — this has been now over 16 years ago. I really appreciate the Boston ecosystem because it is vibrant with activity among diverse players while being incredibly open and collaborative. It is very easy to feel welcomed. Five years ago, an opportunity arose within Wentworth to focus on the innovation and entrepreneurship space. I’ve been heading that innovation initiative and its strategy at Wentworth since.
I love looking at the big picture, breaking rules, and challenging the status quo. Education never worked for me when I went through school, and I was quite determined to actually provide an outlet for students and an environment where they can discover what they really love and be able to exercise their muscles in terms of innovative thinking and entrepreneurial competencies. In May 2012, we received the green light to launch Accelerate. For me, it was an opportunity to really redefine how education can work and instead of focusing on content, we focus on competency development and experiential learning. It’s really about doing it, not just talking about it. Wentworth is focused on applied sciences with engineering, technology, architecture, design management and as a result we see product innovation combined with social impact.
Why did you and your team decide to create Accelerate? What drives you and your team?
As an education institution that is creating the next wave of talent, it is our responsibility to keep tabs on how the future of work will look like. It is about thinking ahead and creating connection points with industries to enter this dialogue so future talent can cross disciplines more seamlessly and solve the complex challenges we are facing. You may study architecture, but may never work as an architect in the future. Instead, you may consider additional skills in computer science, data analysis, engineering, or social sciences and work on projects that define how the cities of the future will look like. This lens of converging industries is critical to the work we do at Accelerate. It’s really about building people. It’s not about creating one startup after another.
What would you say are the “pillars” of Accelerate?
For us, it was really important to work with the students and meet them where they are with their idea. At Accelerate, we have three core components. The first is storytelling. We offer workshops for the students to meet with and get to know more entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, lawyers, and marketing specialists to give them a sense of what it really means to turn an idea into reality.
The second component is mentoring, which I consider one of the major cornerstones of our program, because we’ve developed a modular approach the last couple of years to ensure that the students are receiving support when they actually need it. If a student team is at the point where they need to write a business plan, we connect them with someone who can help them with that. We have student coaches who work with our interdisciplinary teams on a weekly basis, then we have faculty ambassadors that are available for office hours, and we use external mentors to guide students with further developing specific aspects of their ideas, for example marketing, consumer insights, or manufacturing. We also have an Entrepreneur in Residence who is available to share expertise and provide a little bit more systemic thinking on how to deploy resources to the team.
The third component is inspiration. This I find to be really important because it is something that educational environments are often deprived of. We are often encouraging students to really connect to fields and disciplines that are unrelated to their field of study. For one, to get them really uncomfortable, and also to level set what they know and what they don’t know. It is a way to find inspiration and solutions to problems that are not necessarily within their own discipline, but create translational opportunities. It shows students how they might be able to impact the world by thinking completely outside the box and be able to reflect on the challenges that we face as a society.
What’s next for Accelerate?
We are planning to expand the Inspiration aspect of our innovation work on campus by bringing students, faculty, and staff together with external audiences from different sectors and disciplines. This can either happen on campus or in collaboration with external partners where we plug into existing think tanks and ideathons or hackathons. The focus will be on how we are going to live, learn, and work in the future. What role should education play? How do we deal with AI and robotics and how will it change the way we work? How does urbanization change the way we live in cities? The solutions and the answers to these questions need to be explored in a cross-discipline context. Creating a platform to mobilize those communities and create some thought leadership around these topics is really close to my heart and I think there is a huge opportunity in Boston to create those conversations.
Best advice you’ve received?
The best advice I’ve received came from a former supervisor, mentor, and friend. He always said to his employees, “Don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t forget the human condition.” In light of organizations becoming more lean while professional and personal spaces blend together more and more, it is important to remind ourselves what really matters.
Any last thoughts?
One thing I’ve been thinking about quite a bit is the provocation of industries and organizations to do the right thing for the greater common good. It’s something that I would like to carry more into the innovation work we do. I’ve also always been fascinated by craftsmanship, makers that focus their lives on perfecting a single craft, e.g. making hats. There is something very appealing about craftsmanship and handmade things because of their human elements and tactical emotional experiences. It’s the two ends of the spectrum where you have the simplicity on one hand taking materials and creating something out of it, and on the other hand you have fast-paced innovation that will take us in different directions and generate new trends and technology.
The HUBweek Change Maker series showcases the most innovative minds in art, science, and technology making an impact in Boston and around the world.